What's the story behind scarecrows?

Jerry Apps
Always curious, Jerry Apps wondered just how long scarecrows have been around. You would be surprised.

My wife, Ruth, is a great fan of decorative scarecrows. She stores them in our basement and when September rolls around each year, the scarecrows once more appear. I see them everywhere. They range in height from maybe six inches to some that that are about two feet tall. They sit on chairs in the living room. A couple guard the bookshelf. Several are found nestled in the family room plants, peaking around the corner of the leaves. One sits in the center of the dining room table. They are all smiling—a cheerful bunch they are. Helping us celebrate the coming of autumn.

Always curious, I wondered how long scarecrows have been around. To my surprise, the Egyptians are credited with using scarecrows to scare away the birds from their wheat fields along the Nile River 3,000 years ago. Some 2,500 years ago, the Greeks were using scarecrows to scare the birds away from their vineyards. About that same time, Japanese farmers were using scarecrows to protect their rice fields.

In Germany, farmers created scarecrows to resemble witches, made out of sacks stuffed with straw and heads made from painted gourds. In this country, scarecrows were often used to frighten birds away from home gardens There is no evidence to suggest how many birds, especially crows, were scared away with their presence.

Today, scarecrows are mostly used as decorations in the fall. Some are supposedly

men, some women, some children, but each one makes me smile when I look at it. When I’m eating breakfast each morning, I look around and several of them are watching me, cheering me on as I face a new day.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: On a dreary fall day, scarecrows can make us smile.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work, go to